Professionalism/Balancing Individual Rights vs Welfare of Society

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George W. Bush and "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques"[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

On September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers crashed four jetliners into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, killing more than 3,000 people in the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In the wake of these terrorist attacks, the Bush administration launched the global war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat terrorists and their organizations. Controversy has abounded over his support of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques". Many critics view these “enhanced techniques” as torture whereas supporters view these techniques as imperative to national security.

Enhanced interrogation methods include sensory deprivation, prolonged periods in stress positions, sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and waterboarding. Between 2002 and 2003 the CIA considered these techniques to be legal arguing that terror detainees were not protected by the Geneva Conventions' ban on torture.[1] Since 2001 approximately 100 detainees, including those held by the CIA, have died during interrogations. Some of these deaths may be linked to torture. [2][3] Most of these interrogations have been conducted outside of US legal jurisdiction in "black sites," which are secret prisons operated by the CIA, to facilitate the United States’ War on terror.

Critics believe the use of torture could have counterproductive military effects as it can cause captors to resist cooperation and give false information. Following the futile advice can have negative economic consequences, and this use of torture may intensify the enemy combatants will to fight. Scholars have tried to verify the effectiveness of torture with little success. Metin Basoglu, MD, PhD and Professor of psychiatriatry, explained that, “torture generates intense hatred and desire for vengeance against the perpetrators, radicalizing even ordinary people with no strong political view.”[4]

Proponents believe the United States is acting within the international treatment guidelines for enemy combatants, and CIA director George J. Tenet has expressed that about one-third of the Al-Qaeda leadership have been captured or eliminated as a direct result of interrogation.[5] Among these include Ramzi bin al-Shibh a key facilitator for the September 11 attacks and Omar al-Faruq who led plans to blow up US embassies around Asia.[6][7] In addition, the U.S. National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack articulated that “the United States is treating enemy combatants in U.S. government control, wherever held, humanely and in a manner consistent with the principles of the Third Geneva convention of 1949.”[5]

Decisions[edit | edit source]

The Bush administration experienced repeated policy change over the rights of enemy detainees and the use of interrogation techniques. On September 18, 2001, in response to the terrorist attacks, President Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force. The act gave the president the authority to use necessary and appropriate force against contributors to the attacks. However, the United States Supreme Court case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld limited the power us this act by determining that detainees who are U.S. citizens have the right to due process and to challenge their enemy combatant label. The Bush administration believed that if an individual was caught in arms against the U.S. it is constitution to define them as an enemy combatant without access to the court systems. In response, on October 17, 2006, Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which allowed the U.S. government to prosecute unlawful enemy combatants by a military tribunal rather than a civilian trial and denies them access to habeas corpus. While it also bars the torture of detainees, it allows the president to determine what constitutes torture. [8] On March 8th, 2008, Bush vetoed legislation that would ban the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods such as waterboarding[9] saying that "the bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the War on Terror". Furthermore, he said that, “This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe,” illustrating how he has prioritized the security of the United States.[10]

A United States survey found that only 25% of Americans believe the use of torture against suspected terrorists can never be justified.[11] Even with a majority of Americans in support, President Bush was forced to make the tough decision between national security and the human rights of the detainees. He made the decision to take a very supportive stance on enhanced interrogation, asserting that they do not constitute torture and instead provide critical information to preserving American lives, enough though it may infringe upon human rights.

A Controversial Legacy[edit | edit source]

Controversy still surrounds the efficacy of enhanced interrogation practices in the War on Terror, and ultimately, Bush’s decisions on the matter have left a contested legacy. In a 2009 Gallup poll, 55% of Americans believed the use of harsh interrogation techniques was justified.[12] Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, said Bush "will go down in history as the torture president" for defying Congress and allowing the CIA to use interrogation techniques "that any reasonable observer would call torture."[13] However, supporters credit Bush's counterterrorism policies with preventing another major terrorist attack from occurring post 9-11.

In his memoir, Decision Points, published in 2010, Bush considered his biggest accomplishment to be keeping "the country safe amid a real danger"[14] and defended his administration's enhanced interrogation techniques, specifically the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, saying, "I'd do it again to save lives."[15]

Overall, scholars have recognized Bush’s presidency as one of the most consequential; a host of substantive decisions, policies, and events that he presided over includes No Child Left Behind, Medicare, the Patriot Act, the War on Terror, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis. This has led to extreme perceptions of his leadership: A CNN poll conducted in April of 2013 reveals that 80% of Republicans call Bush’s presidency a success, but only 43% of independents calling it a success, and nearly 90% of Democrats calling it a failure.[16] Princeton University scholar Julian Zelizer has called Bush’s presidency a “transformative one”.[17]

HeLa Cell Line[edit | edit source]

The HeLa cell line was the first immortal cell line discovered and is still among the most commonly used. Like other immortal cell lines, such as A549, HEK 293, and Jurkat, it has played a role in medical testing and contributed to major breakthroughs. The cell line was derived from the cervical cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks.[18] She was diagnosed with cancer in 1951 and received radiation therapy at Johns Hopkins. As was standard procedure in that time period, samples of her healthy tissue and cancerous tissue were taken for comparison.[19] 8 months later, on October 4th, 1951, Henrietta passed away. Physician George Otto Gey was given Henrietta Lacks' cell samples and, when he cultured them, he noted the "cells did something they'd never seen before: They could be kept alive and grow."[20] Due to the genetic abnormality of the cancer cells, they were immune to the Hayflick Limit that made the useful life of cells 3 or 4 days.[21]

Controversy[edit | edit source]

While tissue sampling was standard procedure and something she would have consented to as part of her treatment, she did not know what was to become of those cells.[19] She did not consent to her cells being cultured in perpetuity. Henrietta's descendants settled the property rights with the National Institutes of Health in 2013 for a hand in controlling the future of the line and acknowledgements in scientific papers.[22] The central question surrounds whether a person has property rights to their discarded biological tissue. The issue reached the Supreme Court of California in the case Moore v Regents of the University of California in 1990.[18] The family of John Moore wanted a share of the profits from his cell line, purported to have had a 3 billion dollar commercial value over a six year period. The Court decided that Moore has no property rights to his tissue and issued a statement that the "Court needs to balance between protecting rights of patients and the threat of ‘civil liability’ and the hindering of medical research." [23]

Individual Rights[edit | edit source]

Western culture has strong views on the sanctity of the human body, with Apostle Paul and John Locke, two of the most important philosophers in influencing the western thinking, shaping opinions on the human body and personal rights. Apostle Paul stated in 1 Cor 6:19-20 that "Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit."[24] John Locke stated that "Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself."[25] They would contend that Henrietta Lacks has the right to prevent her cells from being immortalized and manipulated.

Welfare of Society[edit | edit source]

The HeLa cell line was crucial in the development of a safe and effective polio vaccine.[26] Prior to the development of the HeLa cell line, researchers spent more time developing and maintaining short lived cultures than they spent running experiments. Jonas Salk was able to get large quantities of robust cells to test his vaccine on, accelerating the process of vaccine creation.[26] The polio vaccine decreased the incidence of polio in America from 21,000 cases in 1952 to 61 cases in 1965, following the introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955.[27]

Consequentialism vs. Deontology[edit | edit source]

Consequentialism, coined by philosopher Gertrude E. M. Anscombe in 1958, holds that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment on its rightness or wrongness. In the above cases, one could argue that enhanced interrogation, or the use of HeLa cell line is ethical if there is a net positive gain by society. Many scholars, however, doubt the efficacy of enhanced interrogation practices and cite many negative consequences, such as its effect on the perpetrator and its resulting perception of US foreign policy, lending argument to the unethicality of enhanced interrogation even by consequentialist standards.

Contrasting consequentialism is the idea of deontology, where the rightness or wrongness of an act is judged based on its intrinsic character. With many individuals considering enhanced interrogation as torture, it would be considered highly unethical by deontological ethics. On the other hand, some may believe that the use of discarded biological tissues does not truly wrong an individual, thus deeming our second case as ethical even by deontological standards.

Bush’s decisions to support enhanced interrogation techniques and the use of the HeLa cell line are complex and controversial issues that deal with weighing the human rights of an individual against the welfare of a population. While there is no right answer to these problems, consequentialism and deontology provide two opposing moral frameworks with which to consider their ethicality, and may help a professional in making decisions that strike a balance the between the consequentialist systems that make peoples' lives better versus the deontological morality of those systems.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Previously secret torture memo released [1]
  2. The Bush Administration Homicides [2]
  3. The suppressed fact: Deaths by U.S. torture [3]
  4. The effects and effectiveness of using torture as an interrogation device: Using research to inform the policy debate [4]
  5. a b U.S. decries abuse but defends interrogations[5]
  6. Detainee Biographies [6]
  7. Al-Qaida: Dead or captured[7]
  8. Military Commissions Act of 2006[8]
  9. H.R.2082.ENR[9]
  10. Bush vetoes bill banning waterboarding[10]
  11. Statistics on torture[11]
  12. Slim majority wants bush era interrogations[12]
  13. Bush vetoes torture ban; interrogation methods 'valuable' tool in war on terror [13]
  14. Bush promotes book in Chicago [14]
  15. Bush's Glib Waterboarding Admission Sparks Outrage[15]
  16. CNN Poll: How will history remember George W. Bush?[16]
  17. Historian tips rethink of Bush presidency[17]
  18. a b Skloot, Rebecca (2010). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown/Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-5217-2
  19. a b Washington, Harriet "Henrietta Lacks: An Unsung Hero", Emerge Magazine, October 1994
  20. Claiborne, Ron; Wright IV, Sydney (2010-01-31). "How One Woman's Cells Changed Medicine". ABC World News. Retrieved 2012-08-19.
  21. Ivanković M, Cukusić A, Gotić I, Skrobot N, Matijasić M, Polancec D, Rubelj I (2007). "Telomerase activity in HeLa cervical carcinoma cell line proliferation". Biogerontology 8 (2): 163–72. doi:10.1007/s10522-006-9043-9. PMID 16955216
  22. Callaway, Ewen (7 August 2013). "NIH director explains HeLa agreement". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2013.13521
  23. Pannelli, J. Moore v. Regents of University of California Majority Decision. Supreme Court of California, 51 Cal.3d 120
  24. Corinthians, First Epistle to the, "The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia", Ed. James Orr, 1915
  25. Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Ed. Peter Laslett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1988), 137
  26. a b Batts DW (2010-05-10). "Cancer cells killed Henrietta Lacks – then made her immortal". The Virginian-Pilot. pp. 1, 12–14
  27. WHO. (2014, March 1). Poliomyelitis Fact Sheet. Retrieved , from